Best Cities for Service-Oriented Students

Today’s college students are known for their interest in volunteer work and community awareness. According to the Achieve creative agency, about 72% of Millennials are interested in volunteering for nonprofits. The federal government’s Corporation for National and Community Service revealed that over a quarter of U.S. residents volunteered in 2011, while two-thirds of Americans reported helping people within their neighborhoods.

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Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN


  • Population: 3,759,978
  • Volunteer Percentage: 36.7%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 35
  • Noteworthy City Effort: In 2014, St. Paul adopted the “All In” recycling program, expanding acceptance of new types of containers, while making the process more convenient. The city also hosts a number of community volunteer events to beautify the city throughout the year.

Rochester, NY


  • Population: 210,532
  • Volunteer Percentage: 35.1%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 21
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The city of Rochester’s “Green Team” has an enormous membership of over 10,000 volunteers who assist in dozens of special programs. These include the Clean Sweep, Flower City Looking Good, and Project Green programs, which are designed to reduce litter and encourage natural growth.

Milwaukee, WI


  • Population: 598,916
  • Volunteer Percentage: 33.6%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 21
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The unique HOME GR/OWN program allows residents to transform foreclosed property into vibrant community centers to prevent property from being underused. So far, residents have turned some of these spaces into urban farms, corner stores, and community gardens.

Seattle, WA


  • Population: 634,535
  • Volunteer Percentage: 33.5%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 25
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Seattle has its own extensive database for city and neighborhood-based volunteer opportunities in government offices, public libraries, animal shelters, art galleries, nature preserves, and parks. This makes it a prime location for students who want to get experience at the city government level.

Portland, OR


  • Population: 603,106
  • Volunteer Percentage: 32.9%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 36
  • Noteworthy City Effort: This city’s Sustainability at Work program pairs environmental efforts with local businesses. Participating organizations are matched with a city sustainability advisor who provides them with free resources and green programs customized to the needs of each business.

St. Louis, MO


  • Population: 318,416
  • Volunteer Percentage: 31.8%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 25
  • Noteworthy City Effort: St. Louis is enlisting the help of 79 communities in the Sustainable Neighborhood Initiative, a grassroots campaign to increase the economic, environmental, and social success of the city. The small grants and resources place an emphasis on infrastructure, empowerment, cultural, and ecological efforts.

San Francisco, CA



Kansas City, MO


  • Population: 2,343,008
  • Volunteer Percentage: 31.0%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 32
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Kansas City has made a concerted effort to adopt alternative fuels and foster a culture of sustainability. The city is currently ranked third in the nation after switching fleet vehicles to natural compressed gas and biodiesel.

Denver, CO


  • Population: 634,265
  • Volunteer Percentage: 30.1%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 28
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Denver, like Like St. Louis, places a heavy emphasis on neighborhood collaboration and improvement. The Denver Sustainable Neighborhoods Program instills a competitive spirit, allowing neighborhoods to earn sustainability credits that can be used toward custom signage and community recognition.

Austin, TX


  • Population: 865,504
  • Volunteer Percentage: 29.0%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 39
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Austin has embraced a five-tier strategy, dubbed the Climate Protection Plan, which is dedicated to the fight against global warming. This includes community emissions reduction efforts, carbon neutrality assistance, renewable energy increases, city transit adjustments, and energy efficiency codes. Residents are invited to get involved as Zero Waste Block Leaders, helping to inform their communities about environmental issues.

Boston, MA

  • Population: 636,479
  • Volunteer Percentage: 27.2%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 33
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The Boston Volunteers nonprofit is comprised of over 6,000 members who collaborate with organizations around the city to provide food to the needy, tutoring, facility safety updates, and labor services.

Louisville, KY

  • Population: 624,110
  • Volunteer Percentage: 25.8%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 29
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Louisville has adopted and embraced several initiatives to make the city more environmentally friendly. They encourage the public’s participation in their programs, and implemented a “single stream” recycling program so that residents no longer have to sort their recyclable materials.

Chicago, IL

  • Population: 2,714,856
  • Volunteer Percentage: 25.5%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 87
  • Noteworthy City Effort: You can join three focus teams run by the city of Chicago, which are dedicated to local sustainability. The Chicago Conservation Corps is designed for adults who wish to teach environmental awareness courses in after school programs. Recycling Block Captains educate communities on recycling services.

New York, NY

  • Population: 8,405,837
  • Volunteer Percentage: 18.3%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 98
  • Noteworthy City Effort: There’s no surprise that the cultural hub of the United States has an extensive Sustainability Indicator strategy, which includes over 400 milestones for the next fifteen years.

Riverside, CA

  • Population: 313,673
  • Volunteer Percentage: 17.7%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 5
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The city government in Riverside actively seeks municipal volunteers every year to participate as tutors and public safety workers.

Eugene, OR

  • Population: 157,986
  • Volunteer Percentage: 32.8%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 5
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Like Riverside, the Eugene city government offers aspiring volunteers a wide range of opportunities. You can explore roles in parks and recreation, local libraries, police departments, airports, and at the city manager’s office.

Lexington, KY

  • Population: 308,428
  • Volunteer Percentage: 31.5%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 13
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The Lexington city government offers a wide range of public grants that fund community efforts for greater sustainability and art projects that emphasize ecology.

Tulsa, OK

  • Population: 393,987
  • Volunteer Percentage: 28.4%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 27
  • Noteworthy City Effort: Ecology-minded volunteers can learn about Tulsa’s commitments to sustainability by reviewing their extensive city plan, which details their water, resource efficiency, and clean energy benchmarks.

Stockton, CA

  • Population: 301,090
  • Volunteer Percentage: 28.1%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 5
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The city government is always on the lookout for volunteers for cleanup efforts and other municipal work. You can subscribe to the City of Stockton’s volunteer email notifications to get information about the newest opportunities.

Greensboro, NC

  • Population: 277,080
  • Volunteer Percentage: 27.2%
  • Number of Colleges and Universities: 13
  • Noteworthy City Effort: The Volunteer Center of Greensboro has been recruiting help since 1963, connecting communities with dozens of nonprofits in the city.

Many colleges are recognizing the need for and value of students eager to participate in civic activities. In addition to the essential benefits volunteering provides to communities worldwide, actively volunteering has been linked with long-term happiness and emotional gratification. Students can pursue civic duties and personal growth during college by volunteering for efforts such as food service, fundraising, labor, or education. These listings highlight cities that emphasize community service and sustainability, or places that already have a high percentage of volunteer workers. The listings are not ranked in any particular order.


The twenty locations in this list were selected based on three major factors:

  • Volunteer Rates: Each city has appeared on the Corporation for National and Community Service’s rankings of cities by volunteer rates, organized by large and mid-sized cities.
  • Environmental Efforts: Each of these cities has appeared on “America’s 50 Greenest Cities” list, compiled by Popular Science.
  • Sustainable Colleges: Each city has at least one school ranked on the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) report, a program governed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.

How to Interpret the Data

Keep in mind that these location listings are not ranked in any particular order. The percentage of volunteers is based on total population data for each city. Additionally, the percentage of volunteers on campus might differ greatly from the percentage of volunteers per city. For example, cities with seemingly low participation might actually have a high concentration of community or environmental programs on campus.